Feasibility of structural monitoring with vibration powered sensors
Smart Materials and Structures
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Michigan State University, Engineering Building 3573, East Lansing, MI 48824, United States; Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Wireless sensors and sensor networks are beginning to be used to monitor structures. In general, the longevity, and hence the efficacy, of these sensors are severely limited by their stored power. The ability to convert abundant ambient energy into electric power would eliminate the problem of drained electrical supply, and would allow indefinite monitoring. This paper focuses on vibration in civil engineering structures as a source of ambient energy; the key question is can sufficient energy be produced from vibrations? Earthquake, wind and traffic loads are used as realistic sources of vibration. The theoretical maximum energy levels that can be extracted from these dynamic loads are computed. The same dynamic loads are applied to a piezoelectric generator; the energy is measured experimentally and computed using a mathematical model. The collected energy levels are compared to the energy requirements of various electronic subsystems in a wireless sensor. For a 5cm3 sensor node (the volume of a typical concrete stone), it is found that only extreme events such as earthquakes can provide sufficient energy to power wireless sensors consisting of modern electronic chips. The results show that the optimal generated electrical power increases approximately linearly with increasing sensor mass. With current technology, it would be possible to self-power a sensor node with a mass between 100 and 1000g for a bridge under traffic load. Lowering the energy consumption of electronic components is an ongoing research effort. It is likely that, as electronics becomes more efficient in the future, it will be possible to power a wireless sensor node by harvesting vibrations from a volume generator smaller than 5cm3. © 2006 IOP Publishing Ltd.
Earthquakes; Electric power systems; Electronic equipment; Energy efficiency; Problem solving; Vibration control; Structural monitoring; Vibration powered sensors; Volume generators; Sensors